Loved and Fond Memories

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Bellwood, Nebraska

Over the years I have wanted to write a story and just never got
to it. I am 57 years old and was too young to take part on the
great steam rigs that once threshed the grain of this great land
that we live in today.

Back in 1947, I bought a 50 HP Case. I met up with a lovely lady
and got married in 1950. My father-in-law and his bunch had lost
their thresherman. He asked if I would buy a threshing machine and
thresh out their ring. I bought a 36-64 all steel Minneapolis, it
had a 14 foot Garden City Feeder. I was young and eager to thresh
with a steam engine, needless to say I learned a lot the first day.
I was pulling a very heavy load and I was determined to make this
engine pull this machine. I found out very quickly that you
don’t carry high water in a Case boiler. I couldn’t use the
injector, because every time I tried, it would pull the steam
pressure down too far, and I needed all the pressure I could get. I
used the gear pump and carried the water level at 3/8 to inch from
the top of the glass. I had her hooked over in the corner and she
was doing all she could.

My Uncle Harold Forney of Surprise, Nebraska, and 11 other
farmers had bought a rig of their own, back in 1919. Uncle Harold
had run this engine for 15 years. He was my idol. Their rig was a
25-75 Russell, mounted on a universal-butt strap boiler. I grew up
beside this engine, rode on it and got to steer it back in 1936.
They cut it up in 1940. This grand engine had worn out two Nickels
and Shepard separators for them. I just couldn’t see why they
had to destroy such a fine engine for a few dollars. Because of
this, I had a burr under my saddle for 11 years. My uncle could
have bought the Russell for a few dollars, but he didn’t! Both
he and my dad said that back in the late thirties the ax had
fallen. The steam rigs were a thing of the past, and the combines
were here to stay.

Getting back to my own rig, in late July of 1951, my uncle and a
friend of his had heard that I was threshing out northwest of
Bellwood, Nebraska. They came down to see how we were getting
along. My uncle came up to the engine, looked over at me, smiled
and went back to the machine. I saw him step up on the grain wagon,
run his hands through the wheat, then he disappeared. I knew where
he went though. It wasn’t long and I saw him reach behind the
sieves, take out some chaff and blow on it. My father-in-law was
the separator man, and he and my uncle stood beside the machine and
visited for quite some time.

During all this time, the sun had gone under, and there was a
big black bank forming in the Northwest. It was coming over fast
and the wind had gone down to nothing. The smoke from the stack was
going straight up. The steam gauges read 160 lbs. The bundle
pitchers were getting in a hurry and had started to lap the bundles
in the feeder. The old 50 was sure chewing her cud, but she took
it. My uncle had come up to the engine, he stopped and looked up at
the smoke box. The paint had all burnt off, both box and stack. I
got down off the engine and he said to me, ‘Well, kid, I
checked you out and you’re doing a good job, but you could sure
use a bigger engine. You’ll burn this little fellow up.’ I
said to him, ‘Uncle, would you just happen to know where I
could pick up a h of a good 25-75 Russell?’ He said to me,
‘Well, no, not now.’ As he left, he said, ‘You will get
done before the storm hits, I’m sure!’

We did, and as I pulled the separator away from the stack, the
rain hit hard; we got six inches of rain that night.

Two weeks later I went over on a Sunday afternoon, steamed up
and drove the outfit home. My wife was my water boy that year. She
got so she could start my F-20 with one left on the crank. As I
look back over my younger years, I see it has been great! Years
later, my uncle told me, ‘I wish I would have bought that
Russell. If I had I sure would have given it to you!’ I, like
many others, made many mistakes over the years.

Today, Florence and I own a 22 HP Advance Rumely, which I have
owned for years. In 1984, I bought a 12-36 Russell Traction Engine,
#16029, and most of all, a long a-waited 25-75 Russell, #17118.
Both butt strap. The 25 at present time is being restored. I
can’t wait to fire her up! With this, I shall close out this
part of the story.

Over the years I have gone to many threshing reunions, all over
these states, and have met up with dozens of senior threshermen.
Some of these great men were Art Good-ban, Ed Hubertus, Big Mac,
Marcus Leonard, and a long time personal friend, Bruce McCourtney,
who was a long time thresherman and house mover. I now sit at the
old threshers tent in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and listen to great men
tell of experience they have had back when they were young, when
steam was king! I will always stand in the back row and look up to
men like them.

Back in 1978, I answered an ad in the I.M.A. Magazine. I had a
boiler that needed to be rebuilt. The ad read something like:
Custom made parts and boilers, any size ASME. I had bought a Ford
pickup, and my long time friend, Mr. Fred Dvorak and I drove down
to Kansas and called on this man. The man’s name was Tom
Terning. Fred and I arrived on the yard and were greeted by their
dog, it was not a friendly type. He would growl at you if you so
much as looked at him. Very soon a lovely lady arrived at the scene
and introduced herself as Mrs. Tom Terning. She told us that Tom
would be along soon, and she asked if we would like a glass of ice
tea. In no time at all we had our ice tea, which sure hit the spot.
Later a pickup pulled in the yard and a man got out, not too tall
of a man, but one with big arms and broad shoulders. This man was
Tom Terning. He took us to the shop where he had a size Case 65
almost done. He asked us if we would like to see it run on air. Tom
oiled up the cylinder and all moving parts, then coupled up the air
hose to a valve he had on top of the steam chest. He threw the
reverse lever in the corner and the little case started up. It ran

Over the years it has become a great friendship. Tom, Lois, and
Aaron Terning, to me, will always be members of our family. A few
years ago, Florence and I started to attend the Terning Steam Show,
held over Labor Day weekend. Today it is the best steam show out in
these parts. We have met with a lot of grand people at the Valley
Center Show. You know, the old steam engine has brought together
thousands of wonderful people who would never have met if they
themselves had no interest in shows like this. I love it! I’m
proud to be a lover of the great steam engine.

A couple of years ago Tom called me and asked if I would help
out on the Avery Under Mount. He said Mr. Sullivan, the operator,
wanted some help. I had met Mr. ‘Avery’ Sullivan the year

The day had come and I told Mr. Sullivan that I would help him
all I could. We got along fine and Tom came around and told us to
put the big Avery on the plow. This was one thing that I have
always wanted to do. We had the Avery steamed up and went around
and oiled and greased up, it was time to go. We got over to the
plow and there were men there ready to take the plow levers. I
fired the big Avery, and Mr. ‘Avery’ ran the engine. We
made two rounds and got along nicely. He said to me, ‘John get
over here and run the engine.’ I said, ‘I have never run an
engine like this, you had better run it yourself. I’ll fire it
for you.’ Mr. Sullivan said, ‘No! I want you to run it, I
think you’ll like it.’ I took the wheel with one hand, and
the throttle with the other. I couldn’t believe how nice this
big engine handled. It steered very easily and the eight plows were
nothing for it.

The next year rolled around. We loaded up my size Oil Pull,
which I built up with a lot of different parts off other machinery.
It is copied after the 16-30. My son, Ben, and I went back to the
Valley Center Steam Show. I went back to the Big Avery and met my
chief engineer, Mr. ‘Avery’ Sullivan. Again we plowed and
put it on the fan. We tore up two belts trying to hold this big

The last day of the show came around and Tom brought out a new
heavy drive belt. This belt was in good shape and heavy. Mr.
Sullivan and I belted up. He stepped off the deck and said to me,
‘John, take it over.’ I had a half glass of water and I
wanted a little more. I turned on the injector, stepped off, and
checked the pin oilers. I had stayed away a little too long, as I
cut the injector off with an inch under the top nut. I had seen the
water there before when we were on the plow. I thought of the old
50 Case back in 1951. I was sure glad this was not a Case. I threw
in some coal and the steam gauge read 163 lbs. The pop valve was
set for 165. Tom said to me, ‘John, we are ready.’ I pulled
the reverse level off center and dropped it down about half way on
the quadrant. I eased the throttle about halfway open. I thought
I’d let the cylinders warm up a little. The double cylinder
engine cut its steam wonderfully, and sounded great!

The pop valve had started to flutter very lightly. It’s time
to drop the hammer, I thought to myself. I let the reverse lever
down in the corner and eased the throttle clear open. Note: No pull
over!! The firebox was an inferno. The water was going up and down,
up over the nut and back down again. This old gal was getting with
the program. I just couldn’t believe it. This big boiler fired
so easy. By this time, the water was back down 1 inch from the top
and steam gauges still climbed. I turned the injector back on and
it still climbed. I had to shut the draft to keep her from popping
off. This proved to me right there, who could build a boiler and
who didn’t!! This 73-year-old lady from Avery Company was in no
way ready for the rocking chair yet. Instead she had strapped on
her high heels and was doing a fast circle two step to the tune of
double cylinder stack talk.

Tom Terning stepped up on the left drive wheel and said to me,
‘John, listen to her talk.’ Tom was so excited and proud of
his big Avery, that he told his buddies close by, ‘Now this is
my Avery boys, eat your heart out!’ Tom grabbed my water jug,
stepped up on the front of his Avery and gave his Bull dog a drink
of water. Before he stepped back down, he gave the dog a pat on his
head and splashed some water on his forehead. The big Avery made
his owner, Tom Terning, proud of it that day. Tom never really
thought too much about the big engine, he told me. He said it’s
big and different from all his other engines, but today he
wouldn’t trade it for the best 110 HP Case built!

As far as myself, I can say this. I pulled it hard, and whether
or not it’s underrated, it’s in fine shape. Its boiler is
also in fine condition and has been hydroed for 300 lbs. Tom told
Fay that we could carry 200 lbs., if we wanted to. The Avery 40 did
carry 200 lbs. with its boiler. I know it will put out its factory
HP rating. I will say this, those of you who have been there, done
it all, and know all the answers, bring your Elgin watch variety,
bring ’em all on, if you think you can do better try it!!

Over the 38 years I have owned 14 different engines, one rail
locomotive and train, which I still own. Out of the 14 engines, I
restored and rebuilt 10 of them. I paid Art Goodban, better known
as A. J. Goodban Machine Shop, thousands of dollars for machine
work. Most of it was spent on wolf valve motion, rebuilding
eccentric hubs and straps, truing up reverse-head and linkage. This
was all done on Case engines. I had two Aultman Taylors, that were
the same way. Their bull gears chipped from misalignment, in other
words poor construction. My old Advance Rumely Universal has done a
lot of drawbar work. Its clutch pinions shows it. The bull gears
are in fine shape and with wing sheet mounting, it was built right
in the first place. Russell was another great engine, they were
simple and made up of good material.

Bruce McCourtney, a man I have known for over 40 years, pulled
his first house with a Russell, when he was 13 years old, and
pulled his last one in 1952, with a 20 HP Aultman Taylor. He told
me that they broke gears on Aultman Taylors, split bull pinions on
Minneapolis, Port Huron and Nichols and Shepard engines. He never
broke a gear on Rusell. McCourtney said, ‘We used one Russell
engine for 23 years, and found that it was the best engine of them
all!’ Also, the Russell stood up, was easy and fast steamers,
took very little to keep up and used less coal and water than any
of the others. The McCourtney boys moved houses for over 50 years,
all over southeastern Nebraska and northeastern Kansas.

Just a few lines on the Tom Terning Steam Show. Give Tom and his
family a few more years and they will have the best d steam show in
these parts. Tom, like me, is what I call a ‘Johnnie come
late,’ as far as the big steam rigs were concerned. He is a
great man on a steam engine. This young man has forgotten more
about steam engines than a lot of old timers ever knew. He has
built hundreds of Case models. They are beautiful and run the same
way. He has rebuilt many of the big engines and helped a lot of his
steam buddies, including me!

Years ago back in the ’50s, I took in several shows year
after year. At Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, I ran into a great man that
started this great magazine that we have today, the IMA. That
gentleman, by the name of Elmer Ritzman, said to me, ‘John, you
should write a story.’ Well, I wrote this story on true facts
that I have come upon while restoring and rebuilding traction
engines over three decades, that I have owned and run. I don’t
pretend to know it all, I wish I did. My old Advance Rumely
won’t put out what it’s supposed to as far as power goes,
but we must all keep one thing in mind, and this is #1. We have to
protect all the great people that come to our shows. I would a lot
sooner run with less boiler pressure and put less stress on my
nerves and know that everything has a good safety margin. Put a
good hydro on your boiler. If it won’t stand a good hydro test,
then it shouldn’t be allowed to perform in any public show.
Boiler plate, stay bolt material and boiler tubes can be had. We
have the best welders here in the U.S. Men like Tom Terning can
weld up a boiler and when it’s done, it’s better and
stronger than when new.

Well I have rattled on here long enough. We had said all our
goodbyes to our great friends here at the Terning Steam Show for
this year. My son, Ben loaded up my size Oil Pull and we started on
home to Nebraska. I had forgotten my water jug on the big Avery and
went back to get it. As I stepped off the deck of the big Avery, I
said to myself, ‘Lady, you made my day!’ As far as the
Avery is concerned, there isn’t but a few of her kind left in
the U.S. any more. To me it was a great honor to have had the
chance to run this fine engine. Mr. Terning and Mr. Sullivan, two
men whom I have the highest respect for, I thank you! I will say
this much, when you can pull an engine with the water going over
the top of the glass, and the reverse lever clear down in the
corner and still gain steam pressure with a 1 inch injector on,
this is one spectacular engine for a double cylinder. Maybe the
boys with the Case boiler can pull it off, but I rather doubt

Case will always hold the honor of being the leader. I owned six
different Case engines over the years and I have heard this from a
lot of old timers and quote, ‘Their steam dome was not high
enough, their fire box was too shallow, and their engine was too
big for their boilers.’

The next steam show that you go to, look over Russell and
Advance Rumely boilers. Note how deep the fire boxes are. You can
pull these engines hard and carry a good supply of water in your
glass. If a boiler is clean, they will never pull over. There was a
lot of fine engines built and built better than anything Case ever
put out. Like a man from Wichita, Kansas said, ‘Model T’s
were cheap!!’

To all the great men and women at the Valley Center Show, just
to name a few of my good friends: Mahlon Giffin, Big Jim, a
dedicated rail man and Charlie. Jeanie, a gal who knows the size
and make of every engine on the grounds and who the operators are.
Don and Margaret Blecka, Lois Terning, the only gal I have ever
met, who can be two places at one time. And my lovely wife
Florence, who is always by my side. Gary Base with his two
beautiful restored engines: 50 HP Case and a return flue Avery.
Gary and his family did a great job on these two units.

Last but not least, Joe Harper, a Russell man who likes double
ported valves, long strokes and heavy flywheels. A man that wins
the slow race, hands down with his beautiful Russell 25-75.

The old steam engine has brought together thousands of wonderful

This 73-year-old lady from Avery Company was in no way ready for
the rocking chair yet

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